Tuesday, September 29, 2009

My thoughts on Boxing

Last Saturday, HBO showed the Vitali Klitschko - Chris Arreloa heavyweight championship fight. To my surprise, it was not on PPV so I bunkered down to watch it. Fortunately, they replayed the Mayweather-Marquez bout from the week before as well. That would've cost me somewhere around $60 bucks so I'm glad they replayed it for free. Interestingly, both fights were very similar - the favored, more technically skilled fighter (Mayweather and Klitschko) employing a defensive strategy while the overmatched Mexican fighters kept coming forward, in vain. Mayweather and Klitschko both won easily, both having connected with 3 to 4 times more punches than their opponent while also maintaining a hugely disproportionate margin in punch percentages.

One of the best sports events I've ever been to was the Klitscko - Corrie Sanders fight in 2004 at the Staples Center. I was still working for Foxsports at the time and I was gifted a media pass to go inside. The atmosphere was enthralling - there is really nothing quite like a boxing match. The energy inside the arena, even pre-fight, was contagious and there were famous celebrities everywhere. It was the place to be. But what was more interesting to me was that so many other fighters were also in attendance. Lennox Lewis and Evander Holyfield among others walked right past where I was loitering. It remains the only sporting event where people dress up in suits and even tuxes. That fight was much like Sat's fight - Klitschko let Sanders come forward but made him pay the price. To commemorate that night, I bought a $5 fight shirt outside Staples showing both pugilist's menacing faces set to a black background. I still wear it to this day, though it probably scares my son.

Mixed Martial Arts has recently found a greater mainstream following that has coincided with the decline of boxing in the national sports consciousness. UFC in particular has done a great job of marketing its sport to young men and it has made boxing seem outdated. The reasons for this are many. There is a higher chance and a seemingly higher rate overall of actual knockouts since they wear thinner gloves. The fact that kicking and wrestling (submission) are also permitted allows for the clash of so many difference fighting styles and makes it an interesting watch. I also think the fact that fighters can finish off a dazed fighter by continuing to strike him on the ground is satisfying to fans, as gruesome as it is. On the other hand, the pinnacle of boxing fervor was when Mike Tyson was at his best. After his unjust jail sentence and unsuccessful return to the ring in the infamous bout #2 vs Holyfield, boxing began its precipitous decline. Today, there are no real American heavyweight contenders to speak of and most of the hype lies in the welterweight to middleweight classes.

In 2007, boxing wrested the national spotlight away from MMA temporarily when Mayweather and Oscar De La Hoya faced off in the ring. I was actually able to drum up enough interest among friends to pool together the funds to buy the fight. (Actually, now that I think about it, a few people flaked so I had to come up with the difference.) While the fight itself wasn't that great, it did set the record for PPV buys at 2.4 million (trumping Tyson-Holyfield II's 1.99 million buys). It generated $120 million and Oscar pocketed an astounding $52 million dollars (while Mayweather took a paltry $25 million). The previous high was $35 million for Tyson-Holyfield.

As a result of that fight, a series of subsequent fights also captured some public interest: Mayweather-Hatton, Pacquiao-De La Hoya, Pacquiao-Hatton. With the golden boy's skills clearly diminished, Oscar finally retired (as did Hatton, fresh off 2 defeats). This sets up the match we all really want to see. The battle of the pound for pound #1 and #2 in the world (as determined by Ring Magazine): Mayweather-Pacquiao. Mayweather just beat Marquez while Pacquiao is set to fight Miguel Cotto in November. If Pacquiao gets through that one, we might get to see the match of the decade.

Ironically, neither Mayweather or Pacquiao actually hold any of the current championship belts. How can a fight of these 2 champions possibly not be for any championship titles? How can the pound for pound best fighters in the sport not hold belts? If the sport of Boxing ever wants to be respected and truly relevant like the NFL or NBA again, the process of crowning champions needs to be free from corruption and transparent. If it were up to me, these are the changes that I would make.

1) No more PPV. Championship boxing needs to be on the major networks or on cable tv. Not pay per view. I understand that with boxers like De La Hoya capable of making $52 million per fight, this may never change. But the fact is, mainstream sports should be on mainstream networks. You can't truly sell your sport if you make it difficult to reach the casual fan. You can't even see highlights on ESPN afterward. As much as I want to see Pacquiao-Cotto, I'd rather keep my $60 bucks in my wallet and watch UCLA-Wash St.

2) Too many belts. Why the heck are there 4 different belts? It makes the word "championship" irrelevant. All we want to know is who is the best fighter in the weight class. So there's the WBC (World Boxing Council 1963), the WBA (World Boxing Association 1962), the IBF (International Boxing Federation 1983), and WBO (World Boxing Organization 1989). Ridiculous. There can't be 4 heavyweight champions of the world. There can only be 1. Ring magazine has done an admirable job in trying to crown true weight class champions by putting forth rigid prerequisites to become the Ring champion. However, until a sanctioning body can enforce it, Ring magazine's proclamations remain "punchless". I say we call the real championship title the WBF - World Boxing Federation champion. Hah.

3) Championship structure. By structure, I mean a clear system on how contenders earn their way to the championship fights. Promoters can seemingly pit any 2 fighters they want at any time. While this can make for entertaining match-ups, it isn't a fair way of determining champions. I think there should be a set list of 16 contenders in each class determined every 2 years. During these 2 years, there should be a 4 group round-robin, then playoff type of structure so that championship fights will occur at the same time at the conclusion of the 2 year cycle. The championship fighter will have fought 3 group fights and 3 playoff fights. 6 fights in 2 years is not too much if the group fights are limited to 7 rounds. This way, championship belts are earned transparently.

4) A more accountable scoring system. The 3 judges must be able to explain their decisions round by round. Just like figure skating or any other sport whose winner is determined by judges, there is a subjective aspect of boxing that must be scrutinized closely and defended openly.

5) End the corruption. This is the product of the astronomical amounts of money that can be made. But there needs to be a honest governing body (WBF) that protects the integrity of the sport, if that even exists. A strong commissioner with a healthy amount of power (like NFL Commissioner Goodell or NBA Commissioner Stern, not that pathetic MLB commissioner) can accomplish much. Boxing should not rely on promoters anymore. Most care only about making money, not about the sport.

Ultimately, I know these changes will not happen because of the money. So all I'm hoping for is an American heavyweight contender to emerge. The Klitschko brothers won't fight each other so the only hope for boxing's heavyweight relevance in the US is if we come up with our own contender. There's something about the heavyweight fights that is so much more special than the lighter weight classes. Nobody would've cared about David without a Goliath. (For further proof, did you see Shaq get into the ring with the retired De La Hoya in his primetime show? Shaq had a puncher's chance simply because he was huge). You just can't argue with the fact that the best boxer in the world is always the heavyweight. Always.

But for now, I'm really hoping for a Pacquiao victory vs Cotto and an eventual matchup vs Mayweather. At least we can all crown our own mythical universal "WBF" boxing champion after that.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Quick look at QBs

Interestingly, Peyton's one of the few QBs in the NFL that was anointed from the beginning. His father was an NFL QB, he played at powerhouse Tennessee (where he was robbed of the Heisman), then picked number 1 overall in the draft. I wonder where starting NFL QBs are from and their draft position? And how many other players are from big time programs, are picked as the franchise cornerstone and have been successful?

(Listed within each category by my personal rankings)

1st or 2nd round pick, Big time school - 12
Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Eli Manning, Carson Palmer, Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, Kerry Collins, Mark Sanchez, Matt Stafford, Jason Campbell, Brady Quinn, JaMarcus Russell

1st or 2nd round pick, small school - 9
Ben Roethlisburger, Donovan McNabb, Philip Rivers, Brett Favre, Joe Flacco, Jay Cutler, Trent Edwards, Chad Pennington, Byron Leftwich

Low pick or undrafted/Big time school - 5
Tom Brady, Matt Schaub, Matt Hasselbeck, Kyle Orton, Matt Cassel

Low pick or undrafted/small school - 6
Kurt Warner, Tony Romo, Shaun Hill, David Garrard, Marc Bulger, Jake Delhomme

Carson Palmer qualifies but is just mildly successful. Drew Brees from Purdue was picked 2nd round but the Chargers gave up hope on him. Eli Manning perhaps, if you consider Ole Miss a big time school. Brady Quinn, Mark Sanchez, Matt Stafford are too new to qualify as successes, no matter what the NY media and ESPN is trying to sell us right now. JaMarcus is a huge bust. Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan come from borderline bigtime programs and the jury is still out on them. And Tom Brady went to Michigan but only started 1 year, in a time share with Drew Henson if I remember correctly, and ended up a 7th round pick.

So basically, it is really tough to make it as a successful NFL QB. It takes nearly all of the following: immense talent, superior intelligence, concentrated hard work, excellence under pressure, effective coaching, a healthy and productive franchise/environment, good teammates and chance/opportunity. The highly touted QB recruit that goes to Notre Dame, Florida or Oklahoma does not necessarily have a leg up on QBs from smaller colleges. Even undrafted prospects can claw their way to the top. Considering this, Peyton Manning's continued success is even more amazing.

The top 10 QBs in my perspective are (in order):

Peyton, Brady, Brees, Warner, Eli, Roethlisberger, McNabb, Romo, Rivers, Palmer

4 were picked high from big programs, 3 were picked high from no namers, 2 were undrafted from no name schools and only 1 was picked low from a big program.

Another observation:
Only 5 starting QBs are black. Of the five - Russell, Campbell, Leftwich, Garrard and McNabb, only McNabb can be considered a true star. 3 of the others them may not even have starting jobs next year and I'm counting Garrard as the incumbent that should keep his. (9/29 Edit: Leftwich just lost his starting job but he has made way for another black QB, Josh Johnson. Johnson is actually just warming the seat for Josh Freeman, Bucs QB of the future, who's also black.)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

In defense of the NFL...

In response to my friend's argument that college football is better:

I can't argue that college sports has that something special. Beating sc in 06 was one of the best sporting events I've ever been to.

But I don't buy that NFLers only play for the money. You're telling me that guys like Peyton or Brees only care about their paycheck? I don't think so. They care about being great. They are the best in the world at what they do. I think the fact that they are paid in addition to their love for the game makes them excel far more. There are always a handful of bad seeds, mostly diva WRs, that ruin the image of the NFL for some but the game is bigger than them.

NFL surpasses college football in so many ways. The NFL game itself is better. The speed and strength of the game is far superior. Reggie bushleague used to run circles around slow, pudgy college kids - he can't turn the corner in the NFL. The strategy is also much more complex - and therefore much more interesting.

As for dedication/passion - the great ones eat and sleep the game. College kids don't know true dedication until the NFL. As for the fans, obviously we as alumni are completely diehards for our school. Putting that aside, most NFL teams truly represent their city. (Its part of the reason why it doesn't work here in LA - half the city are transplants from NY or wherever. And most LA fans aren't real sports fans.) But ask fans in Dallas or Philadelphia, etc, and you'll get
all the dedication/passion you want.

And I think the story lines of players in the NFL are much more compelling. College kids rotate in and out of school so much that its about the coaches a lot of the time. Pete carroll and nick saban think they're bigger than the game. And sometimes they are.

The NFL system is better. The way they determine a champion is the best in sports while college football is clearly the worst in all of sports. Aside from it being settled on the field, there are more teams in the NFL have a chance to win it all. In college, only a handful, usually anointed in the rankings during the preseason, have even a chance to get all the votes they need to make the final game. Shoot, only a handful of the top teams get most of the talent. Can the rest of the pac-10 combined even touch sc in the number of great recruits? NFL talent is spread out fairly.

The only reason the Huskies felt that way after sc was because they have zero chance of winning a championship this year or probably in the next decade. So that game was their superbowl. That's not great, it actually means that the system sucks.

I'm not saying college football overall sucks. I'm just saying it sucks compared to real football. And you know that if given a choice, any college player or coach would rather be in the nfl.

Monday, September 21, 2009

I wish I drafted Frank Gore

The 49ers dropped the Seahawks 23-10 on Sunday to become one of 9 unbeaten teams in the NFL, and more importantly, earn 2 early wins in the NFC West. It will be difficult to take that crown from the Cardinals but the 49ers already beat them in Arizona to show them that it won't be a cakewalk. I like how the 49ers would break post practice huddles by responding to the query "Am I my brother's keeper?", with a "Yes I am", in unison. I have high hopes for this squad.

Much respect to Frank Gore, who ran for 207 yards against the Seahawks. Amazingly, his 2 monstrous TD runs of 79 yards and 80 yards came even though Seattle was stacking the box with 7 and 8 defenders. Pretty amazing. He and the greatest running back of all time, BARRY SANDERS, are the only 2 players in history to break off two TD runs of at least 75 yards in a single game.

Shaun Hill is impressively 9-3 as a starter but he clearly will not be asked to run a high octane offense a la Drew Brees. But ball control and defense should help the niners win a lot of games. This Sunday's matchup vs Minnesota will be a huge litmus test. Its the only battle of two unbeaten teams this week. The Cardinals and the Seahawks aren't good rushing teams so the real question is if the 49ers can contain Adrian Peterson or not.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Is Michael Crabtree the next Jerry Rice, or TO?

The Crabtree saga took another turn this week as the 49ers accused the Jets of tampering. Basically, if the Jets told Crabtree to hold out for next year because he could be worth a certain value more than what the 49ers are offering, that would be tampering. I know that Crabtree must be extremely disappointed at being drafted relatively low but the fact remains that he was drafted at #10. I'm still confused as to why high draft picks in the NFL make so much more than proven established veterans, especially when there's a 50 percent chance that they're a bust. There should be a sliding pay scale just like in the NBA that concretely determines how much players are paid for the draft slot that they are in. Big paydays can be earned after 2 years of putting in your time. At any rate, the 49ers ought not give into Crabtree because it sets a horrible precedent. Perhaps they can front load the contract to help him save face?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Big road wins early in the season

UCLA's 19-15 win over Tennessee was ugly. But going into Knoxville and knocking off a SEC team, bent on revenge, is a very big deal for the young and inexperienced Bruin squad. Stopping the Vols on 4th down inside the 3 yard line to preserve the win may be the most important moment in Rick Neuheisel's UCLA career and is certainly the springboard for the rest of the Bruin season. Unfortunately, Kevin Prince broke his jaw trying to scramble and complete a pass to seal the win on 3rd down of the series after. Its a play that was bungled from the beginning. The Bruins with a 6 point lead should have ran a QB sneak to run the clock down, then taken a safety on 4th down. Now Prince will be out 3-4 weeks with his mouth wired shut while true freshmen, Richard Brehaut or last season's goat, Kevin Craft, takes the reigns. Still, a gutsy out-of-conference win bodes well for the future of UCLA football.

The 49ers traveled to defending the NFC champion Arizona Cardinals and came out of that ugly game 20-16 with a victory as well. While not posting great offensive numbers, including an anemic running game, the 49ers still were able to drive down late in the 4th quarter and score the go ahead score on Shaun Hill's TD pass to Frank Gore. Coach Singletary seems to have molded the 49ers into his image - a hard-hitting, defensive minded squad. There will likely be very few pretty wins this season but the 49ers have fired a season opening salvo to the rest of the NFC West announcing their intentions.

Crabtree is the only draft pick that has not signed a contract yet. Feeling like he deserves a bigger contract than what his 10th spot merits him, Crabtree is threatening to hold out until the 2010 draft. Personally, I am hoping that the 49ers will not give into his demands. If he thinks he will be drafted higher than the 10th overall pick after a year of inactivity plus the emergence of his prima donna attitude, then let him hold out. If he hopes to be a star in this league, that fool would have been better off coming into training camp immediately and camping out on Jerry Rice's driveway on the weekends.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

US 1 - T&T 0

The US didn't really play a strong game but still emerged with the 3 points that they really needed. Now with Costa Rica choking away their Concacaf lead, it looks like the US only needs a draw at home vs CR in their last qualifying game (even if they lose their next game in Honduras) in order to qualify for the 2010 World Cup.

It was surprising to see that T&T were the ones with the better scoring chances in the first half, including Cornell Glen's lob over Tim Howard that fortunately clanged off the crossbar. Our attack looked out of sync for much of the match and even though it seemed like a wide open game, we weren't really able to put much pressure on their defense. I had a hard time understanding why we used 2 defensive minded central midfielders to start the game against a weak T&T squad. There just seemed to be a hole below our forwards and in between our wingers. Clearly when Benny Feilhaber substituted into the game, we had a lot more flow in the center of the field. And then when Ricardo Clark was the one who ultimately hit that amazing, swerving game winning shot, US fans were absolutely floored I'm sure.

There has been a lot of critics about Dempsey's play this year and some of it does seem to be deserved. Sometimes he is disconnected from our attack, as he was often last night. However, as Bob Bradley pointed out, you just never know when he will provide a few moments of game changing brilliance. I think we should experiment with Dempsey in the center of the midfield, flanked by Landon still on the left and Stuart Holden on the right. Dempsey will be more involved in flow of play, even if its for a touch or two. Holden has sent in dangerous crosses from the right wing in the last 3 qualifiers and has been very solid defensively. Of course, this means that Bradley (or Clark) will have to hold down the fort in terms of midfield defensive duties.

Defensively, Tim Howard was excellent, keeping us in the game until we got our attack sorted out. Bornstein, started for his speed and for lack of other options, actually played okay. Bocanegra seemed pretty shaky back there and is starting to make me wonder if he deserves to start at all. Gooch also unfortunately looked a little rusty now that he's on the AC Milan pine and he committed a few fouls that the Gooch of 2006 was known for.

But anyway you look at it, 6 points from the past 2 games is a great outcome no matter how the points were scored. Next game - Oct 10 at Honduras.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

US 2 - El Sal 1

This was one tense game. Not picking up 3 points against the 2nd worst team in the hexagonal at home would have been a disaster. Its bad enough that we barely escaped with a draw in El Salvador, but with 3 others squads vying for one of the top 3 positions (Honduras, Costa Rica and Mexico) all within a point or two with 3 games to play, we had to win this home game. We also have to win on the road vs T&T tomorrow but more on that later.

When El Salvador scored first midway through the 1st half, it must have been extremely worrisome for Bob Bradley. We also went down early to Honduras at home in May and had to claw our way back as well. This is clearly not the pattern that Bradley is hoping for. The dominant power in the region should not be allowing visitors to score first, if at all, on home soil. Skeptics may claim that Mexico is the dominant power in Concacaf now but that's for a different day. (We beat Mexico 2-0 here and they beat us 2-1 there. And we're still above them in the standings. But I digress.) Still, after losing 2 straight games to Mexico though one was our C(rap) team in the Gold Cup, it was not a good feeling to be down early to El Salvador.


Charlie Davies has been a revelation this summer. I would say that he's been all that Freddy Adu was supposed to be - fast, strong and threatening in the box. Also, some of his skills on the ball have been outstanding and he repeatedly created awesome chances for the attack. Unlike Adu, he has clearly benefited from his move to Europe. Playing well at Sochaux in France so far this season may even get him noticed by a bigger club, hopefully? At any rate, his goal vs Mexico earned him the affections of US fans everywhere.

Bradley deciding to start Jozy instead of a healthy Ching may be the final sign of Jozy's ascendancy to prominence in the US team. Jozy's game winning header was a thing of beauty. His second goal exemplified what he can do with the ball at his feet. Too bad the ref was ridiculously stupid. I still don't know what was called there. Anyway, hopefully playing time in the EPL will help Jozy develop into the consistent big forward we've needed since McBride retired. He still needs to learn how to hold up the ball better and draw fouls like Ching does, however. But it is nice to see that we finally have a starting tandem that can be stalwarts for us for years to come. It appears that Dempsey is currently still the main backup but at this point, I'm not complaining.


Bradley Jr has not been in form, according to his club coach in Deutschland. The common criticism is that sometimes he loses his temper and self control. I'm not really that worried about it. Having a tactical minded coach as a father, it is good to see that he's playing instinctively and not paralyzed by thinking too much on the field. Learning to harness his competitiveness is something I'm sure that he can learn over time as he matures. He does however seem to be in a bit of a rut lately. Perhaps he's played too many high pressure games over the past few years and just needs a little time off? Who knows. If we had Jermaine Jones at our disposal, maybe we could afford to let Mike sit, but we don't have many other reliable options in the heart of the midfield.

A source of concern vs ES was his partnership with Benny Feilhaber. It seemed that Bradley should have played behind Benny, allowing Benny the offensive playmaking role but they often seemed to occupy the same space. Benny didn't have the same effect on the game as I thought he would, threading passes to open up that ES defense. However, I still like having Benny on the field instead of a purely defensive player like Ricardo Clark. When JJ comes and Edu returns into the fold, we'll have 4 guys we can trust, perhaps 5 if we can get Francisco Torres some playing time. His resounding header that was miraculously saved by the ES keeper is one that everyone will remember. Beckerman and Holden are an example of opposites. Holden is young, energetic and active. He contributed positively on that right wing and sent in that great cross to Torres' head. Beckerman is old and was ineffective on almost every play he was involved in. While this opportunity is just to reward him for his hard work at the GC, he is merely warming the spot for JJ, Edu or Clark.

Donovan and Dempsey were indispensable as always. Landon's crosses led to both goals late in the 1st half. The first goal was a set piece that ES tried to play as an offside trap. Fortunately, Dempsey made a late run to tuck it in near post while none of the US players smartly made a play on the ball. Landon's second cross in particular was a thing of beauty. He feigned left, then perfectly controlled the ball back to his right foot in one swift motion and sent in a perfect 30 yard ball to Jozy, who deflated ES right before the half.


With Onyewu yellow carded and DeMerit injured, we were without either of our starting CBs from the Confederations Cup. Captain Bocanegra started with Marshall and they both seemed to do an okay job. Marshall gave up the ES header goal that was partly his fault and partly Timmy's for coming out too far. Timmy did redeem himself later in the 86th minute for a victory saving stop at point blank. But the biggest blunder on ES goal must be attributed to Bornstein for trying a overhead kick and accidently centering it for ES. He was again the weak spot in the lineup and the source of the greatest consternation for Bob Bradley as he tries to find an answer to all those fleet footed right-sided wingers in the international game. Again, perhaps the newly FIFA approved transfer, Edgar Castillo, is the answer? At least he contributes something offensively.

Jonathan Spector was solid at RB and was again dangerous in his crossing ability. There's a chance, I would guess, that we will see both he and Cherundolo on the field vs T&T, for lack of a better option. Spector would slot over to LB and be forced to deal with the fastest winger in Concacaf, Carlos Edwards. Actually, perhaps we should put the faster Dolo on the left... But who knows how fast the elder Dolo actually is after his injury. The only other option is to play Marshall with Gooch and put Boca at LB. scary.

We need 3 points at T&T. We must have it. Its not easy to play on the road in Concacaf and clearly this team is down and out. Some would say that they have little to play for but if I were T&T, I would treat this game as my World Cup. Losing or drawing this game against the worst team left would put the US into the scary position of possibly ending up 4th in the Hexagonal with 2 games left. A loser-goes-home 2 game series with Conmebol's 5th place could mean a suicidal meeting with Argentina. umm, yeah, no thanks.

My preferred lineup:

------------Davies* - Jozy-------------
Donovan ----- Feilhaber ----- Dempsey
Dolo ----- Boca ----- Gooch---- Spector

*assuming Davies is healthy, of course. Otherwise, Dempsey up top and Holden on the right.

UCLA 33 - SD State 14

I was most impressed by the fact that we called passing plays for Kevin Prince off the bat - two naked bootlegs to the left no less. And I was even more impressed how he executed them with confidence and precision. Prince does not look like a redshirt freshmen at all - he looks mature beyond his years on and off the field. No deer in the headlights look. Of course we haven't played Tennessee in Knoxville yet, but I do think he'll be alright. I also think his 2 picks were not the worrysome kind of mistakes that resulted from panic, but ones that are easily fixable through more practice at reading defenses.

It was encouraging that our first 2 touchdowns this year were on the ground by different players. Hopefully this means we are developing a stable of young RBs that we can rely on for the next few years. In fact, it is clear that we are very young at many positions, including the OL, who acquitted themselves fairly well, albeit against a weak SD state team.

But even against a pathetic opponent, our offense did seem to be much improved and much more balanced from last year. It does get much more difficult from here on, but I'm holding out hope for a 7 win season. 6 wins for bowl eligibility is okay too.

This upcoming game at Tennessee looks like be a great opportunity for our team to grow. Its one of those games that we can expect mistakes but hopefully they're the kind that we can learn from, not the kind that only serve to deflate and embarrass us. And a win would be awesome.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

This season is the true Neu era

Its finally time for UCLA football again. Last season seemed like a lost cause from the beginning. The opening game, in which we upset Tennessee in OT, caused a national stir at the time and was the leading story on Sportscenter. All of a sudden, the expectations went sky high. We know now that the Vols were terrible last year. So were we. Kevin Craft, who threw four 1st half interceptions vs Tennessee and led the comeback with a couple TDs down the stretch, continued his INT ways the rest of the season, frustrating UCLA fans everywhere. Perhaps the lasting memory of last season was the recurring tongue-lashing coach Neuheisel unleashed on Craft on the sideline week after week. Poor kid - he was thrust into the fire after both Pat Cowan (who will always be remembered for that momentous victory over sc in 2006) and Ben Olson (who has already been forgotten) went down to freak injuries. Thus went our season.

But this year, Neuheisel and Norm Chow have handpicked their QB, Kevin Prince, and have started to rebuild our team with speed and athleticism. Our best player, future NFL draft pick Brian Price will anchor our defense. But the biggest question is still our young OL. Can we protect Prince? Can we move the ball on the ground? It is the hinge on which our season will swing. I'm hoping for a 7 win season. And of course, I hope we beat $C. But mostly, I hope we establish the foundations for a national championship contending program in the future.

Courtesy of LA Times, the projected starting lineup is below.


Quarterback: Kevin Prince. - Norm Chow loves this guy. (I hope its not just because they're both Mormon and Kevin's dad is Norm's dentist.) But if Norm Chow loves a QB, then so do I. Prince for Heisman!

Tailback: Johnathan Franklin. - never heard of him. I always though Christian Ramirez was our best option. Or that that speedster Damian Thigpen.

Fullback: Chane Moline.

Wide receivers: Terrence Austin, Taylor Embree. - we've got lots of depth apparently.

Tight end: Logan Paulsen. - a redshirt senior who should be a big target for Prince.

Tackles: Xavier Su'a-Filo (l), Mike Harris (r). Guards: Jeff Baca (l), Eddie Williams (r). Center: Kai Maiava. - lots of underclassmen here. good luck.

Top reserves: TB Derrick Coleman, OL Stanley Hasiak, WR Randall Carroll, WR Morrell Presley. - Carroll and Presley should be future mainstays for our offense.


Ends: Korey Bosworth, Datone Jones.

Tackles: Brian Price, Jerzy Siewierski.

Linebackers: Reggie Carter, Kyle Bosworth, Akeem Ayers.

Cornerbacks: Alterraun Verner, Aaron Hester. Safeties: Rahim Moore, Tony Dye.

Top reserves: DE Damien Holmes, LB Steve Sloan, LB Sean Westgate, S Glenn Love.


Kicker: Kai Forbath.

Punter: Jeff Locke.

Long snapper: Christian Yount.


SEPT. 5: San Diego State

SEPT. 12: at Tennessee

SEPT. 19: Kansas State

OCT. 3: at Stanford

OCT. 10: Oregon

OCT. 17: California

OCT. 24: at Arizona

OCT. 31: at Oregon State

NOV. 7: Washington

NOV. 14: at Washington State

NOV. 21: Arizona State

NOV. 28: at USC

Chelsea banned from new signings until 2011

Chelsea was banned from signing new players for the next 2 transfer seasons by FIFA for persuading youngster Gael Kakuta to break his contract with French side FC Lens and sign with them in 2007. Frank Arnesen, Chelsea' sporting director, is likely the shady "poacher" to blame, but this does seem to be the common practice for all the big money clubs nowadays. This penalty seems to be an overly harsh punishment and was handed down to make an example of them and their improper conduct in the transfer process. My guess is that Chelsea will vehemently appeal this penalty and probably get the ban reduced to just 1 transfer season. If not, it will be a huge blow to one of the more wealthy and active teams in the transfer market in all of football.

Well, on the face of it, this seems like a huge blow. But I bet part of Roman Abramovich might be a little happy that he doesn't have the pressure of spending any cash for the next 2 years. Maybe. Or maybe he's so rich that he'd rather spend it in building his fantasy team. I guess I wouldn't like being shackled either. But Abramovich's spending prowess has accumulated the kind of depth to survive and still compete for at least the next campaign as well. The only issue that will arise are the possibilities of injuries which could leave periodic "holes" in their lineups.

On the other hand, I think there could be some good that will come out of this. Chelsea will be more inclined to hand long term contracts to their current players and also possibly give their young reserve players a longer look. Without the possiblity of new superstars who will come in expecting playing time, Chelsea's current roster will have a long extended period of time to develop chemistry with each other. Since they are not currently lacking in any position, they can simply focus on improvement instead of worrying about replacement. It has been said that the crucial issue is the age of the Chelsea team. While, many of Chelsea's stars are indeed past 30, they are mostly all in the prime of their careers. After the 2 transfer season ban, Chelsea will then have an even larger checkbook and a good idea of what positions need help.

Chelsea has started out this season edging out rival Man U for the community shield and then subsequently winning the first four EPL matches and sitting on top of the table. Drogba and Anelka have already shown that they are possibly the world's best striker tandem. With Solomon Kalou and even young talent Daniel Sturridge, I don't think they are lacking for goals. That said, I bet Chelsea might've wanted to keep Claudio Pizarro had they expected this penalty. On second thought, nah, nevermind. Malouda can always play on the left in a 4-3-3.

Ancelotti's new diamond formation in the midfield at home (4-3-3 on the road) has also given their numerous world class midfielders a different tactic. Lampard, Ballack, Essien, Mikel, Cole, Deco, Malouda, and Zhirkov (surprisingly the only big addition to the 1st team this summer) are all capable starters and give the team enough depth to weather the next 2 years. John Terry and his defensive group are not a cause for concern either.

With Man U, Liverpool and Arsenal all weakened this year and Man City still gaining their footing, I think Chelsea are clear favorites to win the EPL. It also seems to be about their turn to win a Champions League trophy. At the very least, this penalty should not adversely affect their title hopes for the next 2 seasons.

My favored lineup:

-----Anelka - Drogba----